Okay, so two points right off the bat: 1. There are notable differences between men’s and women’s skin. 2. The ingredients that work toward skin health, work for all genders. In that way, all skincare is unisex. Of course, there are better and worse products — but none of them need to be gender specific.
Testosterone and estrogen levels play a role, but so does your age, genetics, your climate, the season, your diet and your exercise levels. Don’t be constrained to thinking only about sex.
But, we’re here to talk about sex — so, let’s do it.
Internet vs. Research
The internet generally regurgitates the same information (here, here and here): men have thicker skin, more collagen, more sebum, more and larger hair follicles, bigger pores and more sweat glands. Claims of men’s skin being 25% thicker and women aging 15 years faster than men are widespread. The internet learns from the internet.
Let’s dive a bit deeper. In 2018, a survey published in the International Journal of Women's Dermatology, reviewed 632 papers and selected 57 to draw research-based conclusions on the differences between men’s and women’s skin. The most comprehensive conclusion? “Hydration, transepidermal water loss, sebum, microcirculation, pigmentation, and thickness are generally higher in men.” For women, skin pH is higher (men are slightly more acidic). So there’s that.
Despite the claim above, studies between the sexes on hydration and transepidermal water loss (TEWL) showed some conflicting results and, for the most part, the difference was negligible. But both sexes increased TEWL and decreased hydration with age, so both sexes can benefit from a good water-retaining moisturizer.
Sebum (oil) is definitively higher in men, a result of the male sex hormones. And the survey also concluded that “skin pigmentation and thickness are significantly higher, facial wrinkles are deeper, and facial sagging is more prominent in the lower eyelids of men, but there is no significant difference in skin elasticity between the sexes.”
Implications for Skincare
The research is relevant, but doesn't dictate a grand shift in routine between the sexes. And remember, your current behavior also plays a role in this equation. Men who shave run a razor over their skin frequently, performing a microdermabrasion of sorts — freshening up (or irritating) the top layer of skin. And men’s skin knowledge tends to be less nuanced than women’s (the American Academy of Dermatologists uses the phrase “lags behind”), so men often neglect proper UV protection, which increases the risk of premature aging and melanoma.
Men may have more oil to clear, but cleansing twice a day is good for both genders. A deep, hydrating moisturizer is also good for both sexes and a repairing cream, especially applied overnight, helps prevent the signs of aging for all. Men need to get on the SPF train, especially due to disturbing melanoma discrepancies, but women need to apply just as frequently as men (they just tend to, already). And while women may lament the higher levels of men’s collagen, it still drops for both sexes as we age. Men aren't off the hook; time spares no one.
So while the cocktail party factoids about the differences are interesting, know that a proper routine befits and benefits all genders. Some products may resonate more with one particular man or woman, but those differences are less driven by gender than skin condition and preference. At the end of the day, a good routine is a good routine, good products are good products, and a solid formula will lead to results — no matter the sex.
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